Seun Johnson-Akeju, MD, assumed the role of anesthetist-in-chief in January 2020, after a career as a clinician and scientist in the department. Throughout 2020 and ongoing, Dr. Johnson-Akeju has been tasked with leading the department through the COVID-19 pandemic.
Danielle Le Hals, MPH, is the executive director of the Department of Anesthesia, Critical Care and Pain Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital. In this role, Danielle works closely with Seun Johnson-Akeju, MD, anesthetist-in-chief, and the entire department leadership team, to support the daily operations and strategic direction of the department in alignment with its core mission.
Though she joined the department in January 2021, Danielle is a seasoned and proficient leader at Mass General, having previously served as the executive director of radiation oncology at the Mass General Cancer Center.
In this Women’s History Month spotlight, Danielle shares more about her experience in her role, her passion for her career and her advice for women interested in pursuing a similar career path.
Q. What was your background prior to coming to Mass General?
My story starts in Vietnam, where I was born and lived for six years before coming to Dorchester, MA, with my family. I went to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology for undergraduate study, and then pursued a graduate degree at University of California, Berkeley.
I started my career at Mass General in 2009 as an administrative fellow and have since served in administrative leadership roles in the Division of Gastroenterology and, more recently, the Department of Radiation Oncology.
Q. Why did you choose to work in health care? In the department?
I have always wanted to be in a career that is mission-oriented and has a positive impact on people’s lives. At the start of my career, I participated in a few pipeline programs that introduced me to public health and health care management, and I never looked back. I was drawn to the Department of Anesthesia due to its wide-ranging reach in virtually every area of the hospital and beyond, including the operating rooms and procedural areas, inpatient floors and the outpatient setting.
I felt confident that it would be an environment where I could continue my professional growth and make positive contributions. I was also inspired by Dr. Johnson-Akeju’s leadership values and vison for the department.
Q. What do you love most about working in health care?
I love working with such talented, dedicated and brilliant colleagues Mass General. This has been affirmed in multiple ways; however, never more so than throughout this past year when I have seen the power and greatness of the sum of our parts come together to fight the COVID-19 pandemic.
Q. What is one thing that motivates you every day in your work?
I feel privileged to be in an administrative leadership role at Mass General, where I can help advocate for department and patient needs, support decision-making and work with wonderful professionals in the field. I take those responsibilities seriously, and I am motivated by the ambition to always do the right thing.
Of course, “the right thing” is not always the easiest or fastest path, but I aim to always be thoughtful and guided by my core values.
Q. What is one challenge you have experienced in your roles and how did you overcome it?
A challenge for me as a working mom of young kids is, as expected, making sure to appropriately manage the constant juggle of priorities at home and at work. I am not sure if I will ever fully overcome this challenge at this stage, but I have appreciated the encouragement and understanding from supportive friends, colleagues and managers.
Q. March is Women’s History Month. What would you say to young women with similar aspirations to your own?
I would let young women, especially women of color and/or those who do not see leadership as a natural career trajectory for them, know that their diverse backgrounds, experiences and voices are assets to any organization. When the self-doubt starts to creep in as you contemplate a career path in management or leadership, I would say go for it and be persistent about seeking out mentors and confidantes at each step. I myself am grateful to the trusted mentors who have provided sound advice and a helping hand along the way.
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